25 September 2023

NORTHERN IRELAND: Sick leave chronic

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Sickness rates in the Northern Ireland Public Service are at their highest level in almost a decade, with one in eight staff on long-term sick leave.

The statistics were revealed by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), showing that the average PS employee took about 13 days of sick leave in the past financial year.

It said sickness absence was now at its highest level since a new human resources system was introduced in 2008–09.

However, the 2017–18 figure is still lower than the peak average of 15.5 sickness days recorded in 2003–04.

NISRA estimated that sickness cost £33.8 million (A$62 million) — about 4 per cent of the total Public Service pay bill.

It said staff absences due to colds and flu were higher than usual although more than one-third of absences were attributed to anxiety, stress, depression or other mental illnesses.

While just under half the staff took no sick leave last year, one in eight had at least one period of long-term absence that lasted about three months on average.

NISRA reported that long-term absence was at its highest rate in five years and accounted for nearly three-quarters of all working days lost.

The union Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) said the annually released figures were a “witch hunt” against the public sector, and management needed to do more to tackle work-related stress.

NIPSA General Secretary, Alison Millar said the Alliance had offered to work with management to see how the Service could better handle mental illness among staff.

Ms Millar said management was continuing “to make cuts, attack terms and conditions, change how people work and pile on more pressure whilst totally failing to address the root cause of the problem”.

“It is time to stop this annual ritual of a witch hunt against Civil Servants and for the Civil Service and others to understand that the pressures on Civil Servants, both economic and workplace pressures, are the cause with the resultant adverse impact on health and morale,” Ms Millar said.

The Department of Finance said the rise in sickness levels was “disappointing”.

The Northern Ireland Public Service employs about 20,000 people.

Belfast, 28 September 2018

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